Cyclo-Cross Life

Ah, can you smell it? Or maybe you can feel it in the air? The mornings a tad more crisp. The sun is setting that touch earlier. Yes, cyclo-cross season is just around the corner. Really can’t beat the feelings of anticipation when it comes to a new cyclo-cross season. Lots of questions about fitness, technical skills, tire choices, new kit arriving and travel and race plans being finalized. It really is kind of like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter all rolled into one!

As you likely know (if you’re a regular reader) – my training is going super well. I’m hitting numbers that quite frankly – I’ve never seen before. Efforts are getting harder, going deeper and the recovery is really improving. I’m super happy to be feeling as well as I am on the bike. I daresay that I haven’t felt this good on the bike in a very long time – in fact as far back as 2010 when I did have one of my better seasons. It is amazing what being healthy, feeling confident and having some solid training can do!

I’ve pretty much got my travel plans for the first two World Cups of the season sorted out. I’m going to fly into Prague on Oct. 12 and drive to Plzen. Got a good rate on the super Hotel Ibis and I’ll stay there until the following Thursday. Then it is off to Tabor and I’ll bunk down at the Hotel Kapitol until Monday morning. I’m super fortunate to have my good friend and mechanic Ignace traveling to the two World Cups this year. This takes a lot of pressure off of me and it really helps to have someone there in the event that something goes wrong with my bikes. Thanks Ignace – you can expect some tasty Canadian maple syrup to be making the trip with me! The only piece of the puzzle I’ve got left for this trip is the car rental… I’m leaning towards a Volkswagen Golf (or similar) – most people say that the bike boxes will fit. I think they will – and the price is right for this size of car. It is amazing how expensive car rentals are!

Logistics aside, I’m really looking forward to returning to the Czech Republic. I had a great time in Plzen last year – my dad and I took in the city and just had a super trip. I’m already thinking about the delicious hot chocolate I had at a wonderful little cafe in Plzen. I’ll definitely be having one after racing on Oct. 16. I really like the course at Plzen – I didn’t have a very good ride there last year – but this is a new year and I’m in much better shape physically and mentally this  year. I’m also looking forward to racing in Tabor – it will be interesting to see what the course is like now that it is not covered in snow and ice! The other highlight of this trip is connecting with all my cyclo-cross pals again – it is amazing the friendships that have developed over the years.

As for the Belgian end of the season? Well, I was just looking at flights and there are some excellent prices right now. (If Marc were here to consult with, I’d likely have booked by now!) Looks like I’ll fly to Belgium on Nov. 8 – this gives me a couple of days to catch my breath after racing at Canadian Cyclo-Cross Nationals on Nov. 5 in Toronto. Then it will be full-steam ahead while in Belgium!

I just find feel that even though the season hasn’t started yet and I haven’t raced yet, that this is going to be a great year. I feel good. Things are falling into place. I’ve got some fantastic sponsors again this year. I really just can’t wait to get started.

I think what really helps this year is that life away from the bike is really going well. I’ve got a new job with Blue Volcano Media that I’m really enjoying, I’ve got some excellent freelance clients that I’m working for as well – so this really helps me balance the demands of training and racing. It is nice to not be working – but I find that for me, I get really absorbed with bikes, bike racing and performance. If I have something else to balance out my life and my focus, I don’t get as crazy…

So, really, things are good. The cyclo-cross life is treating me well and I’ve got no complaints! Life is good. Each day I realize how lucky I am to do what I do and it is even better to connect with people who have goals and dreams – this helps me keep digging that extra little bit when I’m out training and to buckle down when I’ve got deadlines coming up.

To sum things up in a few words: Dudes – I’m stoked!

An Empty Brain

Today all I had on the training calendar was a very easy 60 minutes. Completely flat roads and nothing crazy – just a nice easy spin for the legs to help get the junk out after a weekend of hitting it hard. Sounds simple enough. Normally when I ride (yes, even when I do intervals) I listen to talk radio – think NPR, CBC, ClifCasts, Outside Magazine, This American Life – etc. I find the talk radio helps me really zone in on what I’m doing and keeps my brain from wandering and going a bit bonkers.

Well, today I decided to listen to my 2010 Warm-Up playlist. This is a series of songs I put together last season that I would listen to before races and and often while out riding my cyclo-cross bike at Averbode or Floreal Lichtaart. For these settings, music works perfectly for me. Today I learned it doesn’t work so well when all I have to concentrate on is going easy… yes, you can guess where this is going.

Before I knew it, my brain was leap-frogging from my to do list, to my racing plans, to schedules, to hotel reservations, to flights, to car rentals, to qualification standards for the 2012 World Cyclo-Cross Championships. Not good. Finally I actually had to say out loud, “Vicki – cut it out. Relax and just ride. Getting stressed out is not going to help anything. Just line-up, race your bike and do your best. This is all you can control.”

So did it help – yes sort of. But then, a few hours after my ride I found myself sitting on my yoga mat at my local yoga studio and just as the centring started – my brain went crazy again… I focused in on my breath and on the first few downward dogs of the warm-up. Soon enough I was in a happy place where my brain was free of thought and worry.

Now, as I sit here thinking back on all of this, I honestly feel a bit silly that I let my brain get the better of me sometimes. I can do a really good job of working myself up into an unnecessary ball of stress – not good for anyone.

So, just like I gave up aspartame three weeks ago (I miss my Diet Coke) – I am now pledging to make a concerted effort to having an empty brain as much as possible. So if I seem a bit spaced-out or you catch me with an empty expression on my face – this is a good thing. This means I’m in a happy place and I’m just rolling with it.

I like to think I’m not the only person who battles their brain…. So now is your time to ‘fess up and tell others how you deal with it… Come on don’t be shy – we’re all friends here.

Reflections on a Cyclo-Cross Season

For a cyclo-cross racer, this is kind of an odd time to be writing about my cyclo-cross season. But as you know, my season was cut short in December… I’ve had some time to think about this 2010-2011 cyclo-cross season and I thought I’d let you in on these thoughts….

In a nutshell, this was a very disappointing cyclo-cross season. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted or planned. The goals I set weren’t achieved. And quite frankly I didn’t race the way I can or wanted. This was not for want of trying. In fact sometimes I wonder if I “tried” to hard. I wonder what my season would have been like if when I first got sick again last May, I’d backed off on the training and let my body heal. But hindsight is 20/20. I felt good on the bike and everything was pointing towards the training benefits paying off into the cyclo-cross race season. But this didn’t happen. I fought my body each and every time I got on the bike to race this year. Is this an excuse for why my season didn’t live up to my expectations? I’m not sure – it is what it is.

I worked hard in the off-season on my technical skills. But still I have much more room to improve in this area. In fact more than my struggles with the ulcerative colitis this season, I wonder if my technical skills held me back more than my health struggles? I pushed myself technically this spring/summer/fall, but I still believe I can push myself more. There are skills that I simply need to “get”. Being smooth in my transitions. Really understanding gearing and how it applies to different terrain: sand, mud, steep climbs, off-cambers, etc. Technically I’ve come along way, but this season has shown me that I still have further to go. By making improvements technically, I think I can really improve my cyclo-cross racing.

Really there are no results to write about here. After a few weeks into the season it became pretty clear that the results I had attained last season were going to be pretty darn hard to achieve. Instead I had to look at each races as an opportunity to test myself technically and to simply just focus on getting around for 40 minutes. Not really what goes through the mind of an elite cyclo-cross racer on the start line. But it is what it is. I did have some races that I was happy/content with – my ride at Niel was decent for my first muddy slog of a Belgian race, I had a blast at Aspere Gavere and was stoked to be able to ride the crazy descent, Hasselt was fun as usual, and I really felt like I had a decent ride at Koksijde. Sand is still very challenging for me, but I felt like I rode better at Koksijde this year than I did last. Actually, even the Canadian Cyclo-Cross Nationals were okay for me – I was 16th – not the result I wanted or expected… But through it all, I didn’t quit, I stayed positive and just focused on leaving it out there. It just so happens that this year it was 16th (rather than 7th the previous two seasons…). If anything this cyclo-cross season has taught me more than ever to focus on performance rather than outcome. It would have been so easy to quit and crack if I had been only looking at my name on the results sheet.

Mentally, this has been my strongest season ever. There was a point at the start of the season when I didn’t know about the ridiculous anemia and the effects the ulcerative colitis was having on my ability to perform that I did worry that my “head had fallen off”. I just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t race the way I believed I should be. Immediately I started to worry that I just didn’t want it badly enough. But deep down, I knew this wasn’t the case. Honestly it was a relief to find out I was fighting my body and not my brain. I’ve come a long way mentally in this bike racing game. It hasn’t been easy. But I think I’ve found my groove. I’m confident. I believe in myself. And I’ve learned to ignore the idiots out there – yes, in our little Ottawa cyclo-cross community there are people who were (and probably still are) talking “trash” behind my back and to others about how “Vicki sucks”. Well, I let this get to me for a bit but then I realized that I just simply don’t care about those idiots. I don’t have time to let them get in my brain. I suppose the hardest part with this has been wondering why people bother saying “crap” about others – what is the point in being outright mean to another person? Sometimes I’m tempted to say something face-to-face to these people – but what is the point – idiots just don’t get it. So thanks to my strengthened mental resolve and confidence, I was able to come out of this negative aspect of the season on top. I’m a good bike racer. I’m a strong bike racer. Those who know me, know this. As for the others – I just don’t care.

So where does this leave me for 2011-2012 cyclo-cross season? Well, I’m eager to start training again. But I’m not rushing things. I have to get healthy before I can do this. I have been out on my bike for the last three days and the riding has been slow but enjoyable. I find the riding now is not “effortless” like it was. But I know the strength and form will come back. I’ve got some goals set for the upcoming cyclo-cross season and I’m hoping to get out to do some road racing this summer as well. I’ll be out on all three bikes this spring and summer: mountain, road and cyclo-cross – plugging away and enjoying every minute of it.

One aspect to this cyclo-cross season that can’t be overlooked is of course my sponsors. I’m a very lucky bike racers. I’ve got amazing sponsors who support me for who I am and what I represent. They are not hung up on my results or podiums – they’re about getting the brand out there with a positive image. For this I’m very fortunate. It was very hard for me to contact my sponsors in December and let them know about the end of my cyclo-cross season. I have such a solid connection with all of my sponsors that I really felt like I was letting them down. The response I received from each and everyone of them was overwhelming. In a nutshell: get better don’t worry about the racing. Yep, pretty darn lucky. So a big thanks to:

And many many thanks to the sponsor behind all of these fine companies: Marc. Marc has once again made this cyclo-cross season a reality. His faith and belief in me really keeps me going. It would have been easy to pack it in this season and change my plans and goals. But Marc wouldn’t let me do this. He was there to keep me steady and to remind me of what is important to me. Right now, I’m getting so much satisfaction from seeing Marc race so well. He is having an awesome cyclo-cross season and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Hopefully his success and experience will trickle down to me.

So there you have it. My thoughts and ruminations on my 2010-2011 cyclo-cross season. It wasn’t what I expected or planned. But it happened and I made the best of it. Do I wish my season was still happening and that I was getting ready to racing in St. Wendel, Germany – damn straight I do! In the end I was 5 UCI point short of making the qualification standards. Pretty darn good, all things considered. This time next year, I plan to be writing a blog post about my thoughts on the upcoming World Cyclo-Cross Championships in Koksijde, Belgium – my thoughts on what I want out of the race. That’s right – I’m going to be there on that start line on January 29, 2012.

Today I Rode My Bike

Yes, that’s right. Today,  I rode my bike. It felt good. One week ago on New Year’s Eve I left the hospital after a one week stay due to my ulcerative colitis. If you had told me that one week later I’d have the energy and desire to ride my bike, I would have laughed out loud. What a difference a week makes. Granted I’m still quite sick. But I have more energy. I’m getting more sleep (about five hours a night now). I’m able to eat more foods – just added in vegetables, fruit and oatmeal today! So all in all, things are progressing along really well.

I still have to visit my doctor every week so he can monitor my health and ensure the medicine is doing its job. But this is nothing compared to being trapped in a hospital….

So my ride…. Well, this morning Alex, Marc and I hopped in the trusty Peugeout and zipped off to Boom (suburb of Antwerp) to hit up Decathlon, Saturn and Ikea. We had a good browse around – I picked up some awesome thermal tights. As we drove home, the roads were drying up and I proclaimed that if it wasn’t raining in Blauberg, I was going to go for a ride. I think there were a few raised eyebrows, but Marc and Alex know best not to argue…

Within 15 minutes of getting back to Blauberg, I was kitted up and ready to ride. I was way overdressed but the thinking amongst the guys (Karl, Alex, and Marc) was that I should overdress and most of all go very very slowly. This time I listened…. I pulled on my new thermal tights. Put on my brand new winter weight cycling gloves. And wrapped my feet in my brand new shoe covers. Top this off with my Belgian team jacket, super red hat, Oakleys, and Giro Atmos helmet and I was off. Oh boy, that bike felt so good underneath me.

I simply pedaled super easy down the main road to Averbode. I took my time. I think I was grinning the entire time! No music or iPod – just me, the bike and the fresh air. Can’t really complain about riding in 8 celsius on January 7! I stuck to my 30 minutes – it felt good. I do admit that I was a bit tired – my legs felt a bit empty by the time I got back here. Best part was talking about my ride with the guys.

I won’t be riding on Saturday since we have an action-packed day – Marc is racing (really stoked to be going to watch and cheer him on) and then we’re zipping back to Blauberg and hitting the road to Rotterdam. We’re all heading to Rotterdam to take in the track racing at the Six Days of Rotterdam track racing festival. We’ve got plans for dinner in Rotterdam somewhere, track racing and just generally a good time.

I plan to go out again on Sunday. Probably another simple easy ride – I might push it to 45 minutes or an hour. But above all else, I’ll be sure to take it easy. Simply just enjoying be on the bike is good enough for me right now. I’ve also started doing yoga again. It feels good to get my body stretching and bending again.

I’m along way from being healthy. I’m along way from doing real training. For now I’m just trying to get my body moving again and give it the feelings it so very much craves. So far 2011 is only one week old, but boy oh boy do I have great feelings about this year.

Tough News

As you know, I’m all about being honest on this site… So I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m sick. Really sick this time. Sick with the ulcerative colitis to the point where I can’t even think about my bike let alone get out and ride it. This flare came out of the blue last Thursday and initially it wasn’t too bad – I was able to ride and to eat fairly well. This is not the case anymore.

I had a couple of good rides on Monday and Tuesday – though I was pretty much wiped out for the rest of the day, but it still felt good to get out and ride. As for Wednesday and Thursday – there wasn’t any riding. Really all I did was lie on the couch.

Until yesterday I still did think that I could keep racing and that I’d be lining up at next weekend’s double-header of Scheldecross and the Kalmthout World Cup. But it is just not going to happen. I can’t eat or drink much right now. All I want to do is sleep. So racing is out of the question.

This is hard. Really damn hard. I’m so frustrated with my body. Some days it would be easier to understand why this is happening to me if I was a person who lives an unhealthy life. But I don’t – I do everything I can to be healthy and still this ulcerative colitis shows up and puts a stop to my dream and goals.

The only thing I can do now is focus on getting better. Since I’m not racing I have the chance to take some medicine that normally I wouldn’t be able to take. I’m hoping this will help and then I can get myself back on track for next season. (I’m still secretly hoping I can be well enough to race at the Hoogerheide World Cup at the end of January…)

I know that I’ve got a big engine inside of me and lots more kick left in these legs of mine. I’ll be back next year ready to race the season I had planned to have this year.

Many many thanks for your ongoing support and encouragement of my racing and training. I really do appreciate the amazing comments and emails that you send. Each time I race I know that I’ve got your support with me while I’m racing through the mud, sand, grass and crazy descents. Please know that I’m trying to do the same for you – if you listen closely during the race you can hear me shouting “Keep Pedaling”, “Good Job”, “Awesome Ride”, “You’re Doing Great”.

Have a great Friday and get out and spin some miles for me. To all of my American friends who are racing this weekend in the U.S. National Cyclo-Cross Championships – best of luck. The course in Bend, Oregon looks pretty darn narly – looking forward to seeing how all of you do.

A big shout out to my sponsors for the overwhelming support I’ve received this season. These companies have made it possible for me to chase my dreams and goals:

KingsBridge Disaster Recovery

The Cyclery

Stevens Bikes Canada

Champion Systems Canada

Bell Lap Coaching

Clif Bar

OGC

Oakley

In Blauberg, Belgium

Made it one piece. Both bikes arrived. My bag arrived. And I’m here. An uneventful flight (full of crying babies and loud talkers but I had three seats to myself…). I crashed hard on the Frankfurt to Brussels flight – barely could keep my eyes open to drink my little glass of water. Hooked up Shaun A. in the Brussels airport – this is when I had a huge wave of fatigue. Wobbly legs, lightheaded and just plain old wiped out – I hoped for a second wind.

Luckily the second wind came just when I needed it… I found the rental car desk easily got the paperwork and proceeded to the car pick up. This is when things went a bit wobbly. I had an overloaded luggage cart with two bikes, a heavy piece of luggage and my carry-on. The stuff came spilling off twice. Once this happened when the wheel of my cart caught a little hole in the pavement. The second time it happened as I was trying to navigate the downward/spiral sidewalk – yes everything fell off. I nearly cracked. But I took a deep breath, sucked it up and dragged my gear to the car pick up. Packed up the car and hit the open road – thanks to the trusty iPad and Navigon.

It is amazing how one moment you can feel fine and the next be knocked down by ridiculous hunger… Thankfully the Bambus grocery store next to the house was open. One brie and egg sandwich later and I was sitting down pondering my next move. Time to build bikes. Got the bikes together rather easily. By this time Jos had arrived so we had an excellent chat and then Jos was off. Back to the bikes. Discovered the shifting was a bit latent on one bike and the other one has a bent rear brake. No problems – quick drive to 4Bikes and my bikes are in excellent hands. Excellent chat with Peter the owner and a promise of the bikes being ready by 11 on Wednesday morning.

I was a bit disappointed about not being able to ride. But truth be told, I’m pretty tired and it is pouring rain! So no spin for my legs today. Instead I got a bunch of errands done. Mostly food related – a few stops at my favorite grocery stores, bakery, and health food store. By the time I got to the big grocery store I truly was in a fog – I just put random stuff in my cart. I did discover tahini and honey spread at the Lidl. Of course I had to buy it – it is so good. Going back for another jar tomorrow (no I didn’t eat the whole jar – it is just that the product at Lidl rotates so I might never see this heavenly spread again).

The house is looking good. Though it is a bit cluttered right now since I’m in various stages of unpacking – all over the house…. I’ll try to get a bit more done tonight – all in the effort to stay awake until 9 p.m. Wednesday will be full of riding, pre-race preparations, arranging race logistics, getting unpacked and another trip to the grocery store to buy everything I forgot to buy today….

It is good to be here. I walked into the Bambus and the ladies working there started talking to me as if I’d never left. Same thing happened in the bakery and health food store. What a fantastic feeling. Great to talk with Jos in person as well. If today is any indication of how the next three months will be, I’m convinced it is going to be a most excellent winter.

Alright, I’m out. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll remember to bring my camera on my ride and I’ll snap a few pics for you. First race is on Thursday at Niel. I have a feeling it will be muddy…

Back At It

Well, I’m back home in Ottawa. Definitely was awesome to travel and race in the first two World Cups of the season but it is also pretty special to be home. The 12 day trip was pretty darn good with every day really being a separate adventure. Where would I ride? What would I see and discover? What would we see while driving and touring around? What would the race courses be like? How many friends would I bump into and catch up with? Each and every day was filled with such experiences. Pretty darn good for 12 days.

But I must say it was nice to wake up in my own bed this morning, albeit rather early (4:30 – thanks jet lag). It was also refreshing to simply hop on my bike for my ride and not worry about getting lost and trying to memorize the streets signs and all the left and right turns…. I’m always one for adventure but sometimes the training goes more smoothly when I know that I won’t get lost or end up on a fast moving highway in Germany.

I had a great talk with my coach Steve Weller of Bell Lap Coaching. We talked about the past 12 days of travel, training and racing. Going into these World Cups I knew I wasn’t on top form but somehow I managed to forget this and expect a top form performance from myself. Luckily Steve knows me very well and understands what I’m going through right now. I’ve got a great training plan thanks to Steve that will take me into just after the Koksijde World Cup on Nov. 27. I’m looking forward to getting out on my bike and doing some intensity and long rides again – I’ve really missed this.

Today my ride was just what I needed. I got out on my ‘cross bike for an on-road/off-road ride. I hit up some bicycle paths, rolled along some bumpy grass trails, more bicycle paths and finally made it to a fairly underused local park. I rolled along the gravel path taking a few side trails along the way that emptied into a quarry. So far so good. Then I spied a very small opening in the grass…. An undiscovered trail – cool. Well, what a cool trail it is – twists, turns, up, down, rocks, roots, leaves, pine needles – it has it all. Maybe my Fangos pumped up to 50 psi were a bit much for the trail but I still made it through – besides it helps to get used to the rear wheel slip sliding all over the place. A great ride. I had Pearl Jam blasting on my iPod and the sun was shining – and luckily no sign of “jet legs”.

Tomorrow the action starts with some intense intervals. As nice as it is outside, I’ll be doing this ride in the basement on the Computrainer. I’d love to do it outside but I don’t have my SRM on my bike yet so I’ll be in the basement. No biggie really – I want to make sure these intervals are as high quality as possible and often this is better achieved on a trainer. I’ll be sure to get outside for the recovery portion of my ride.

Looking forward to this Saturday when we’re hooking up with local young and fast guns for a cyclo-cross ride. Should be a good one. I do have to go for a run beforehand – but the run will only make the ride that much sweeter. (Still amazes me that I ran a marathon once… Now a 20 minute run feels like work!)

Can you believe that in two weeks I’ll be back in Belgium? Hard to wrap my head around it. I’m really only home for 10 days and then I’m gone. And next weekend I’ll be away in Toronto racing at the Canadian National Cyclo-Cross Championships. Pretty fast and whirlwind but this is what keeps me looking and feeling young!

I’ve moved up on the UCI points ranking – I’m now in 55th spot. Not bad. But I’d like to get into the top 50 again and keep my spot there. I’ve got 47 UCI points – I need 75 to get into the selection pool for the Canadian Team that will race at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships. I’m not stressing about this points chase race. Nope, I’m sticking to my commitment to go out and have fun on my bike – I’ll line up with a smile on my face, I’ll stay relaxed, no crazy nerves or stressing about points. Nope – time to just go out and appreciate being able to do this.

Alright, my tea is getting cold and it is time to catch up with dirty little television show addiction – Top Chef Just Desserts….